New phones for Skype users could be a lot better
I've been using a dedicated Linksys Skype phone occasionally and it works admirably with my home network. I can make calls to friends in Asia and Europe for free (to other Skype users) or pennies a minute on the conventional phone system. It is a good means of communication for a lot of people who make international calls.
Lately I've been testing a couple of models that came out last fall from Belkin Skype WiFi Phone and Netgear SPH101. Both have built-in Skype applications, so there's no software to download.
Each phone provides access to your contact list (with up to 200 entries). This allows you to see who is online (Skype only) and who isn't. You can also adjust your presence status.
Are they practical to use?
Both models operate with SkypeOut and SkypeIn. This is Skype's pay-for service which allows you to make and receive calls on regular phone numbers. Both the Netgear and Belkin phone will let you forward Skype calls to your landline or mobile phone. This is very handy. I often call a former Hawaii resident who now lives in Singapore on Skype and when he's not in front of his computer, the call easily rolls over to his cell phone.
I had different experiences with the set up on both models.
At home, the Belkin phone easily found my home network and I was using it within minutes. The Netgear was a different story. I was never able to make it work with my home router, even after numerous calls to tech support. However, I loaned the phone to a friend and let him experiment on his home network. He was able to link to his own home network with ease.
Outside of the home, both phones were able to grab open networks with no problem. For example I tried them out at the Pacific Club after having lunch their one day and it was easy to get online. Sometimes, however, the phones had problems staying online. During a couple long phone calls with the Netgear I got cutoff on a routine basis. But that could be more of an issue with the Skype network or the wireless access point rather than the phone.
Staying power with both phones was nominal. The Netgear model offers about two hours of talk time and 20 hours of standby time, whereas the Belkin phone is rated at three hours of talk time and 30 hours of standby time.
Unlike a conventional cell phone, if you leave both phones powered on overnight, they will be dead by the next afternoon whether you make calls or not.
My conclusion: I like the feel and the look of the Belkin but the main issue for me is that it didn't have a speakerphone. The Netgear model did. Both performed reasonably well, but I question whether they are ready for prime time.
is general manager of digital phone at Oceanic Time Warner Cable. He can be reached at email@example.com